We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour resembles a 60s tribute act

Lord (David) Frost is in suitably scornful form this morning in the Daily Telegraph (£). He takes aim at the idea, set out in yesterday’s Labour manifesto, that economic growth can be lifted from its torpor by a mass of councils, committees, agencies and the like, all directed from Whitehall but working, somehow or other, in “partnership” with private sector firms. As he notes, Starmer and the rest of them have learned all the wrong lessons from lockdowns, and in fact they liked the lockdowns precisely because of the ability to order the public around, to mark their movements and somehow command innovations (vaccines) by clapping one’s hands together. The headline of the article is excellent:

Lockdown is the inspiration behind Labour’s ‘plan’ for growth.

Excerpt:

The truth is, of course, that don’t get growth just by saying that you want it, by spending money, or by getting bureaucrats to draw up plans. You get growth by allowing people and companies to invest, spend and invent, as they see fit; by letting them keep what they have earned; and, as far as possible, by staying out of the way.

I cannot resist parallels with where we were in 1964. The Conservatives, led at the time by Alec Douglas-Home (a much underestimated politician and a sharply intelligent man), appeared exhausted and “out of touch”. There was this whole thing about the “grass moors” – pictures of toffs shooting game birds on Scottish estates, and speaking in absurd public school accents. The times they were a changin’: the Beatles were exploding, George Best was transforming the world of football, Sean Connery was on the big screen doing battle against Spectre, and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were making us laugh on TV; consumer goods were more accessible in our shops, and Labour sought to go for the “white heat of the technological revolution”. A lot of this was flim-flam, although some wasn’t. Harold Wilson, who smoked a pipe in public to appear more “sound”, apparently, did a lot of arguably good liberal things: censorship of literature more or less ended; the death penalty ended; homosexuality was decriminalised, divorce laws eased. Social conservatives may jib at this, but there was an aspect of genuine liberalism on parts of the Left that have vanished now in these “cancel culture” times. The downsides were still enormous: ugly buildings, the launch of the destruction of grammar schools and encouragement of egalitarian (and mostly bad) ideas in education. (This Dominic Sandbrook article gives a flavour.)

We know how things ended. In 1967, there was a serious run on the pound in the foreign exchange markets (the UK was still part of the Bretton Woods system, which was ultimately underpinned by the dollar and the $ was still linked, however tenuously, to gold); attempts to rein in trade unions failed; spending on welfare and health rose. Horrid tower blocks were built to replace older housing, to the questionable benefit of the country. There was a “Brain Drain” – sky-high taxes on the “rich” meant that anyone of note in music, film, entertainment, commerce and industry lived abroad.

By 1970 the wheels had come off. Wilson’s government appeared out of ideas, and its enthusiasm for central planning and control appeared as discredited as the Soviet Union. Throw in the turmoil abroad (Vietnam, end of Bretton Woods, the OPEC oil shock, racial and social mayhem in the US,) and things moved fast. Unfortunately, when the Tories were elected on a slim majority in 1970, a promise of radical reform under the horrible Edward Heath did not endure, and by 1974 the country was in deep trouble: strikes, power cuts, civil disorder, the nightmare of Northern Ireland. It wasn’t until 1979, with the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, that matters improved. And for several years it was turbulent, and not a sure thing.

Consider the parallels, even beyond the confines of the Labour manifesto: We have seen a relentless assault on “the rich”; and taxes are rising on them, and there is in the background the threat of a wealth tax, encouraging people who can to get out. The Labour Party wants to impose value added tax on private schools, consolidating the power of unions who hate any form of choice in education. There’s likely to be a lot of house building (something I broadly support), but one has to ask about the likely quality and appearance of it. And to go back to Lord Frost’s point, there is an inability, a sort of complete mental block, to think of bottom-up solutions by individuals doing their own thing to anything. Every problem, in the Labour mind, starts with what government can do about it. I am reminded of the theme of that excellent book, “Seeing Like A State, How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed”, by James C Scott. I doubt that Keir Starmer or his likely future Chancellor and finance minister, Rachel Reeves, have read it.

The groundwork for this memory-holing of lessons from the past has been in evidence for some time. I think the 2008 financial crisis, and the way that a poisonous narrative was allowed to build around what caused it (evil bankers, deregulation, etc, when the causes were mostly about government), carries a lot of the blame for this.

There’s also just a dreadful complacency among those who just assumed that arguments for free enterprise had been won and we can focus more on gender pronouns or so on. (I have seen plenty of comments like this from “social conservatives” who have even told me, at times, that public debt “does not matter” because immigration is so much more important.) What has happened is that the classical liberalism tradition has gone soft. I was struck by how, for example, you can go into a bookshop such as Waterstones in the UK and almost every tome on politics and economics will be banging on about the alleged evils of neo-liberalism and how such ideas rule the world. If only. (A book, Free Lunch Thinking, by Tom Bergin of Reuters, is one of the more intelligent ones, but it is full of questionable conclusions, such as its attacks on the idea that incentives matter, and has been nicely and politely taken apart by Kristian Niemietz of the IEA.)

It is worth recounting all this to understand that while history never exactly repeats itself, it does rhyme. The 60s aren’t coming back as far as music, fashion and films are concerned (shame), but we are likely to get some of the other stuff.

Justin Bronk on Ukraine

Here is an information-dense video with far more than the usual talking points on Ukraine. It is not just about what is going on. It is useful understanding that helps with how to reason about what is going on.

Topics covered include:

  • Manpower and production;
  • training on Western weapon systems;
  • survivability of tanks;
  • effects of long range weapons;
  • possible trajectories of the war over the next year or so;
  • the USA’s self-interest in the war.

It provides good context for the usual talk of things like F16 deployments and map changes.

Samizdata quote of the day – the racism of never blaming Hamas for anything

So rescuing hostages is a war crime now. A ‘grave, grave war crime’, in fact. That’s according to the Guardian’s Owen Jones who is outraged that IDF troops used a humanitarian truck to sneak into the town of Nuseirat where they rescued four of their hostages from the clutches of Hamas and its local heavies. Kenneth Roth, formerly of Human Rights Watch, is also fuming over the IDF’s Trojan Horse antics, reminding Israel that it has a legal duty ‘not to disguise soldiers as civilians’. These people are nuts. What do they expect the IDF to do? Knock on the doors of the fascists holding their compatriots and say: ‘Can we have our Jews back, please?’

Brendan O’Neill

Samizdata quote of the day – the need for an actual liberal party edition

“I am under no illusion that even the most passionate and articulate defence of classically liberal values would be an enormous vote winner. But in an election likely to return a Labour government who will, by their nature, proselytise about the good the state can do, and with a Conservative Party which has in recent years shown a frankly alarming tendency towards illiberalism, implementing sugar taxes and attempting to ban smoking forever. The country desperately needs a counterweight to slow our seemingly inevitable slide towards an ever expanding state. Even if the Tories don’t get completely annihilated at the ballot box they are likely to spend at least the next six months tearing themselves apart in a leadership election. The Lib Dems will be providing the real opposition for a while and they need to stand for something.”

Emma Revell, in CityAM.

Israel condemned for rescuing hostages – go figure

I think we are long past the point where organisations such as the UK’s BBC, never mind such havens of moral bankruptcy, the UN, can be treated seriously any more. One of the long list of reasons I have for despising the current Conservative government (and that’s not about Rishi Sunak, but earlier) is that the BBC still exists. It ought to be a smouldering wreck, as if taken out by an IDF F-15:

The non-surprise is that professional anti-Israel voices, United Nations officials and the European Union foreign-policy chief rushed to attack Israel. Egypt condemned the operation “in the strongest terms.” How dare Israel rescue its own citizens. Didn’t it know there would be casualties? The BBC asked whether Israel gave a warning that the rescue raid was coming. Seriously? A tip-off to terrorists? Perhaps read them Miranda rights too.

Wall Street Journal editorial comment on how the rescue of four hostages has elicited condemnation from various quarters.

Hamas started the war with a massacre, took these hostages and hid them in a crowded civilian area. Then, when Israel came to free them, Hamas responded with heavy fire, including RPGs—yet people are condemning Israel. It makes us wonder if the West has lost the moral discernment and instinct for self-preservation needed to defend itself in a world of killers. Hamas could not survive if not for its enablers around the world.

A question that appears not to occur to some, but does to me, and a few others, is if the civilians in Gaza are the poor innocent types that we are told they are, how come the hostages were residing at the pleasure of them? According to Charles Moore, in the Daily Telegraph (£), Questions that ought to be put by journalists include: “Why does the BBC not inquire into the reasons that Hamas keeps hostages in civilian areas?”

He also asks: “At least three of the hostages were held by civilians (a former Al Jazeera journalist and his family members). What is the extent of Gaza civilian cooperation with Hamas murder and hostage-taking?”

Finally: “One understands…deeply deplores, that the BBC has committed itself to extreme bias in its coverage of Israel/Gaza, but does that mean that it has to employ imbiciles?” I fear the answer is `yes'”.

A few years ago, the UK’s Institute for Economic Affairs had a relatively mildly-written case for scrapping the licence fee tax. It seems to me that if any supposedly sane political party wants to win my vote, the least it can do is pledge to scrap that fee and break the BBC up. For years, the standard response of the BBC grandees to any suggestion of reform is to go on about how it provides world-class journalism and programmes. It’s not a joke that gets funnier with being repeated.

“Farage is a snake, but if we were honest on migration he’d have no fangs”

I do not know the exact political views of Matthew Syed, but I assume he stands at some “sensible” position in the spectrum from Blairite to Cameronite. All the more credit to him, then, for naming their duplicity for what it is.

Farage is a snake, but if we were honest on migration he’d have no fangs

[…]

Hordes of journalists, camera crews and podcasters (including Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel from The News Agents) were there to witness Farage and analyse his appeal. For many in the centre ground the answer is obvious: he draws his success from the bigotry, racism and gullibility on the fringes of polite society. Alastair Campbell has called him a “dangerous demagogue”, and on the radio last week a former adviser to David Cameron contrasted the “superficial showman” with the statesmanship of his own former boss. In The Times Daniel Finkelstein said Farage promised “chaos”, unlike the sensible Sunak.

Permit me to offer a different interpretation of the man who has arguably exerted more influence on British politics than anyone else over the past two decades, despite not winning a seat, and who is set to be a protagonist in the fight for the soul of the Tory party after the election, regardless of whether he wins in Clacton. Farage draws his power not principally from racism (as the son of an immigrant, I can testify that Britain has made great strides on bigotry) or gullibility. Rather, he draws it from deceit.

I am not talking about his own deceit, mind you, although he is more than capable of it. I am talking about the duplicity of the very people who now castigate him: the acolytes and promoters of Tony Blair, Cameron and the others who have held power these past few decades. I say this having gone back to the main party manifestos during the period of Farage’s rise and what they said about the issue he has made his own: immigration. And, as you might expect, and as Farage has consistently claimed, I saw lie after lie.

Don’t, for the moment, consider whether mass immigration is a good or bad thing; instead focus on a point that I hope we can all — left, right, rich, poor, black, white — agree on: the importance of truth-telling. It was Aristotle, after all, who intimated that without some minimum level of candour a polity cannot survive.

Now, consider that Blair said in 1997 that he would ensure “firm control … properly enforced” — and then presided over an intake of 633,000 between 1998 and 2001. In 2005 he said that “only skilled workers will be allowed to settle long term” and promised “an end to chain migration” — and then net migration reached over quarter of a million despite a deep recession, not least because of movement from the new EU states. The government claimed this would be a trickle of 13,000 migrants a year; it turned out to be 1,500 per cent higher.

But if this was merely deceitful, it is difficult to locate the term for what followed. In 2010, 2015 and 2017 the Tories promised to cut immigration to the tens of thousands. In every manifesto. In ink. What happened? Immigration rose to an average of 300,000 a year over the period, totalling over 1.4 million for 2022-23 — a period in which free movement had ended and a high proportion of the intake were dependants of low-wage workers from non-European nations.

People often wave such figures away, saying: “Oh, Britain has always been a nation of immigrants”, which is perfectly true. But if you look at a graph of inflows over the past thousand years, let alone the past hundred, this represents a spike of an unprecedented kind, something that will echo decades — perhaps centuries — into the future. Again, whether or not you think this inflow is overall a good or bad thing, you can’t deny that it has altered the complexion of the UK in ways both subtle and profound.

Now consider another trend over roughly the same period: trust in politics has plummeted to lows that are, again, unprecedented. This may sound a minor issue but it is anything but. Advanced social science tells us trust was the secret to the rise of the West, the invisible forcefield that incubates a healthy, prosperous society. But now we in the UK are living through an age in which trust is slowly — almost imperceptibly — dissipating from public life.

There I must disagree with Mr Syed: the dissipation of trust is no longer slow. That loss of trust is one of the things that has made me much less pro-immigration than I once was. If that means the loss of my Libertarian purity certificate, so be it. I see a similar change in many others. We used to talk expansively about how we did not trust the state one inch, but I think in secret we did trust the bureaucrats and the politicians to be responsible gatekeepers. We no longer do. Inevitably, that means we want stronger gates.

If you feel my “we” above does not include you, feel free to explain why in the comments. My old self, the one that hovered on the edge of being an advocate for the abolition of borders, is still in there somewhere, pleading to be reconvinced.

Outrage against whom?

“There is increasing outrage at the number of Palestinian casualties in Saturday’s operation in and around Nuseirat”, says the caption to a photograph illustrating a BBC story about what it calls the IDF “operation” in Nuseirat. The BBC story begins,

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says an Israeli raid on a refugee camp – which led to the rescue of four hostages – killed 274 people, including children and other civilians.

Notice how the BBC characterises the operation as primarily being “an Israeli raid on a refugee camp”, a phrase to tug on the heartstrings. Anyone would think that this raid on a “refugee camp” (Nuseirat has been there since 1948) was launched because the Israelis just like raiding refugee camps. The BBC says that the raid “led to” the rescue of four hostages as if that were a happy accident.

On Saturday Israel’s forces, backed by air strikes, fought intense gun battles with Hamas in and around the Nuseirat refugee camp, freeing the captives.

Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrei Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, who were abducted from the Nova music festival on 7 October have been returned to Israel.

As was the whole point of this meticulously-planned operation, or “rescue” as such things used to be called. There is a lot of outraging being done today. The Observer reports some more of it,

“Israeli attacks in central Gaza killed scores of Palestinians, many of them civilians, amid a special forces operation to free four hostages held there, a death toll that has caused international outrage”.

At least 274 Palestinians were killed and 698 wounded in Israeli strikes on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, Gaza’s health ministry said on Sunday. The Israeli military said its forces had come under heavy fire during the daytime operation.

The international outrage against Hamas for putting those civilians in harm’s way by hiding the hostages among them, and indeed for the crimes of starting the war and taking hostages in the first place, is entirely justified. Or it would be, if there were any. But that is not what “international outrage” means these days.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called Saturday’s events a “massacre”, while the UN’s aid chief described in graphic detail scenes of “shredded bodies on the ground”.

“Nuseirat refugee camp is the epicentre of the seismic trauma that civilians in Gaza continue to suffer,” Martin Griffiths said in a post on X, calling for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

The Observer story does not say who Martin Griffiths is, or why his implication that Hamas releasing the hostages needs to be accompanied – or, in his word order, preceded – by a ceasefire as a quid pro pro should matter. Mr Griffiths is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. In February 2024, Griffiths told Sky News that “Hamas is not a terrorist group for us, as you know, it is a political movement.”

They just can’t help bringing race and gender into everything

Straight from the website of the Scottish Parliament, here is a revealing line from a speech by Maggie Chapman MSP, former co-Convenor of the Scottish Green Party:

“Road building is a subsidy for wealthy, usually white men, who are the main beneficiaries of reducing journey times between cities, so we really need to think about what our transport infrastructure should be there to do and who it is for, and to prioritise public investment accordingly.”

Scotland is about 95% white.

Singapore’s example

“In the Singaporean case, economic growth has proved to be an upshot of cultural values; it requires a critical mass of the population to hold a certain moral and political psychology, and a particular set of dispositions about enterprise and industry, risk, and change. Cultural values are sticky, and to change them, some moment of acute crisis, when it appears that the costs of continuing down a certain path are greater than shifting course, is required. Yet while crises are necessary for cultural change, they are not sufficient: they represent moments of maximal opportunity, though they must be exploited. And for this, skilled politicians with judgement and a strategy are required.”

James Vitali

A great party is in danger…

…A charismatic politician – once a supporter – is now it’s greatest foe. It’s members have abandoned the beliefs that made the party an electoral force. It’s enemies smell blood. Annihilation beckons.

I am, of course, talking about 1924. The party is the Liberal Party. The politician is Winston Churchill. The beliefs are liberal beliefs: property rights, low taxation, low regulation, sound money.

At this point the similarities with anything more modern start to end. The great shift in politics over the previous quarter of a century had been the rise of the Labour Party. Helped by the socialist take over of the trade unions and the extension of the franchise, Labour found themselves in government albeit as a minority administration.

The Liberal response to the rise of the Labour Party had been to steal its clothes. Hence, Lloyd George’s People’s Budget of 1909. This introduced state pensions, a state-run GP service and a limited unemployment benefit scheme. Worse still, a lot of the Liberal Party’s members gave up on the very idea of liberalism. Hence Lord Haldane, one-time Liberal Minister of War could became a Labour Lord Chancellor.

Churchill’s role in this was to identify socialism as the great threat. His argument was that Liberals and Conservatives (or Unionists as they tended to call themselves in those days) needed to put aside their differences to fight the greater enemy. As I write this, a hundred years ago Churchill is inching his way towards becoming a Conservative but – Churchill being Churchill – his first step in that journey is to fight a by-election against an official Conservative candidate.

Samizdata quote of the day – the EU ‘elections’ vindicate Brexit

Some 200 million Europeans will not be voting for an EU government but rather for a chamber to rubber-stamp the laws passed down from the unelected self-sustaining oligarchy that is the European Commission. It is rather as if Sir Humphrey really did rule from on high in Whitehall, writing all parliamentary bills which were then nodded through by a compliant Commons with maybe just a change here and there.

Real parliaments hold governments to account – they don’t just fiddle around with the details. The EU has sucked powers away from national governments but without replicating the infrastructure and institutions of a functioning democracy. It has created a strange hybrid structure whereby the first the public hears about legislation which will affect their lives tends to be when it is too late, when it is passed to national governments with the instruction to incorporate it into national law – under threat of sanctions.

Spectator editorial (£)

Tax-funded subsidies don’t magically fix a problem – more shocking news

The Wall Street Journal ($) has been running articles looking at the silicon chip industry, and the attempts by countries such as the US to try and protect and stimulate production of high-end chips. I can strongly recommend Chip Wars by Chris Miller for an overview of the rise of this extraordinary industry, and the web of supply chains that underpin it.

Here’s the newspaper’s latest feature on the topic:

Two years into a nearly $53 billion government effort to shore up the U.S. chip industry, the [US] program’s impact is becoming clearer: Big companies making advanced chips are getting a boost, but there are limits to what the money can do. The Chips Act, passed in 2022 to jump-start domestic semiconductor production, is supposed to supercharge chip making in the U.S. But even in its early stages, it is being challenged by fast-growing chip industries in competing countries, political complexity regarding the allotments at home and the sheer expense of manufacturing chips.

The lion’s share of the allotments have been slated for Intel and other large chip makers that plan to make advanced chips in the U.S., while some companies that are important in other parts of the chip-making supply chain have missed out. Meanwhile, other countries have amped up spending to keep competitive.

The government received hundreds of applications for the grants from companies eager for funding.

No kidding. When lots of public money is hosed around, firms will try and get some of it.

The biggest chunks of money went to Intel, which got up to $8.5 billion of grants for several projects, and to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Samsung Electronics and Micron Technology, each of which were allotted more than $6 billion for their projects.

Another way of describing it is corporate welfare.

Industry executives have largely been pleased with the rollout of the program, even as labor disputes, higher costs and extended environmental reviews are slowing work compared with some other countries.

I am sure they are.

Some investors are worried about the amount of money being spent on new construction. Elliott Investment Management, an activist investor, took a $2.5 billion stake in Texas Instruments and wrote a letter last month to its board of directors urging slower spending on manufacturing growth to boost cash flows. TI is expected to receive grants under the Chips Act.

There are dangers of major misallocation of capital when politicians drive anything.

The impact of the program is also limited by the sheer cost of chip plants. A single advanced chip fab can cost more than $20 billion, and the planned U.S. facilities won’t be operating until later this decade. Those realities mean that even a historic $39 billion grant program can’t itself tip the global share significantly in the U.S.’s favor.

This is an expensive business.

The tax credit expires in 2026, and industry lobbyists are already preparing to push for an extension.

I am sure they are. The lobbying industry gets another cause to chase.